Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery Review
Address: 1902 Madrona Ave. St. Helena,California 94574.
Phone Number: 707-963-0134
Tasting Hours: By appt. Mon-Fri 10:00
Region: Napa Valley AVA, St. Helena AVA, California
Reviewer: Tom Riley
Review Date: 5/13/2016
Reviewer: Tom Riley
If youre a lover of American wine, and eager to know more about its upper echelon, then a visit to Spottswoode is a must.
Long regarded as one of the top producers of cabernet sauvignon in the Napa Valley, Spottswoode draws favorable comparisons to the top chateaux in Bordeaux, where, in the wineries along the Left Bank of the Gironde estuary, cabernet sauvignon also reigns supreme. According to influential critic Robert Parker, founder of the Wine Advocate, if Chateau Margaux were in Napa Valley, it would be Spottswoode.
Like its famed French counterparts, what sets Spottswoode apart from other wineries and wines is not shining opulence or glittering power. No, what defines these finest producers is an understanding of their place within history, buttressed by an all-pervading sense of style, an incomparable restrained elegance.
Since its founding in 1882, the estate has been owned by five families, including the current owner, Mary Novak. Mary and her late husband, Jack, a doctor from San Diego, moved to the Napa Valley in 1972 with their five children in search of a more agrarian lifestyle. The next few years saw a replanting of the pre-Prohibition estate vineyards with cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and sauvignon blanc. In 1977 Jack Novak passed away unexpectedly, but Mary decided, despite a kaleidoscope of challenges, to pursue the vision she and her husband had shared. She soon found buyers for her impressive fruit at local, family-owned wineries, including Shafer and Duckhorn. In 1982, 100 years after the estates founding, Mary formally established Spottswoode Winery and bottled its premier vintage of cabernet sauvignon. Mary Novak is still active in winery affairs but now relies on her daughters, CEO Beth Novak Milliken, and National Marketing Director Lindy Novak, to oversee day-to-day operations.
Spottswoode sits modestly just behind the hedges that line a section of Madrona Avenue on the west side of St. Helena. A mix of the old and the new, the plant comprises a Victorian farmhouse that serves as the winery office, a pre-Prohibition Kraft cellar that is used as the cabernet barrel aging room, and a modern production plant that, like the newly constructed tasting room, blends seamlessly into the classical aesthetic of the Novaks winery. As you enter the driveway between the original stone pillars that mark the Spottswoode property, its impossible not to feel that youve come to someplace special.
The day I visited for a tour and tasting, my group was led by Nicole Knoth, the winerys hospitality and events manager, which was a stroke of great luck for us all. Her encyclopedic knowledge of and affection for the winery and its history animated every step of the way. Following a brief introduction to Spottswoode, Nicole led us on a short walk out the driveway gates, down the street past the Certified Organic estate vineyard, through the historic stone and iron Spottswoode arched gate, and up to Mary Novaks Colonial Revival home and gardens that abut the vineyard. There Nicole provided us with a history of the estate and regaled us with various anecdotes involving the Novaks early days in St. Helena. On our return to the winery, we encountered Mary Novaks black Labrador, Riley, Spottswoodes official greeter, who was more than comfortable with the attention and affection we showed him.
Following our visits to the winerys production center and its historic barrel room, Nicole led us into the newest piece of the estate, a tasting room and office attached to the original farmhouse. Unless you are a club member at Spottswoode, the only wines youll ever see, courtesy of the winerys mailing list and occasional retail shop, are the Sauvignon Blanc ($38), the Lyndenhurst Cabernet Sauvignon ($80), and the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($185). Our first wine, the Sauvignon Blanc, had aromas and textures found only in that varietys finest iterations, with complex fruit flavors that ran refreshing and clean from the start through the long, lingering finish. The Lyndenhurst Cabernet is a blend of estate fruit (73%) and carefully sourced grapes from esteemed growers. It was rich wine, but bright and youthful; ready to drink now but certain to develop in the next several years. The final wine, the Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, is the crème de la crème of Spottswoodes 40-acre estate. An impressive wine built for the long-term, it was lush and powerful, with sleek lines of minerality, complex red and black fruit, and mouth-watering acid. Balanced and concentrated with structure to spare. This wine will continue to evolve and drink well for many, many years.
As the tasting wound to its natural conclusion, it was obvious that all of us in the room had been transported by the tasting and delighted by the overall experience. Leave-taking was a gradual and reluctant process. Im not sure any of us could imagine a better place to be that day.